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WHO targets immunisation of one million people, as Nigeria becomes first country to receive new meningitis vaccine

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is targeting the immunisation of 1millikn persons as Nigeria becomes the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine (Men5CV).

In a statement on Friday, WHO said that the vaccine would protect people against five strains of Meningococcus bacteria and described Nigeria’s feat as historic.

It said that health workers would begin an immunisation campaign aimed at reaching one million people.

The statement said that the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and supports lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.

According to the WHO, Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries in Africa, situated in the area known as the African Meningitis Belt.

It noted that in 2023, there was a 50 percent jump in annual meningitis cases reported across Africa.

“In Nigeria, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C outbreak, led to 1,742 suspected meningitis cases, including 101 confirmed cases and 153 deaths in seven of the 36 Nigerian states between October 2023 and March 2024.”

The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, and Zamfara.

“To quell the deadly outbreak, a vaccination campaign was undertaken on March 25–28, 2024, to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years,” it said.

The statement noted that meningitis is a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

“There are multiple causes of meningitis, including viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens.”

“Symptoms often include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious and can also result in septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours,” the statement added.

It quoted WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, as saying that meningitis was an old and deadly foe, adding that the new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal of eliminating meningitis by 2030,” Ghebreyesus said.

He said that the revolutionary new vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W, Y, and X – in a single shot.

All five strains cause meningitis and blood poisoning.

According to him, this provides broader protection than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

He said that the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating meningitis.

“This is especially important for countries like Nigeria, where multiple serogroups are prevalent.

“The new vaccine uses the same technology as the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®), which wiped out meningococcal A epidemics in Nigeria,” the WHO boss said.

The statement quoted Prof. Muhammad Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, as saying that Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi, and Yobe, were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis.

“This vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak and also put the country on a path to elimination,” Pate said.

According to him, Nigeria has done a lot of work preparing health workers and the health system for the rollout of the new vaccine.

“We got invaluable support from our populations in spite of the fasting period, and from our community leaders, especially the Emir of Gumel in Jigawa, who personally launched the vaccination campaign in the state.

“We’ll be monitoring progress closely and hopefully expand the immunisation in the coming months and years to accelerate progress,” he said.

The Minister said that the new multivalent conjugate vaccine took 13 years of effort and was based on a partnership between PATH and the Serum Institute of India.

“Financing from the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office was critical to its development,” he said.

Pate said that in July 2023, WHO prequalified the new Men5CV vaccine (which has brand name MenFive®), and in October 2023, it issued an official recommendation to countries to introduce the new vaccine.

According to him, Gavi allocated resources for the Men5CV rollout in December 2023, which are currently available for outbreak response through the emergency stockpile managed by the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on vaccine provision.

He added that the rollout, through mass preventive campaigns, was expected to start in 2025 across countries of the Meningitis Belt.

UK Minister for Development and Africa, Mr Andrew Mitchell, was also quoted as saying that the rollout of one million vaccines in northern Nigeria would help save lives, prevent long-term illness, and boost the goal of defeating meningitis globally by 2030.

“This is exactly the kind of scientific innovation supported by the UK, which I hope is replicated in years to come, to help us drive further breakthroughs, including wiping out other diseases,” Mitchell said.

He said that WHO has been supporting the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) in responding to the meningitis outbreak in the country.

According to him, the areas of support include disease surveillance, active case finding, sample testing, and case management.

“WHO and partners have also played a vital role in supporting Nigeria to prepare for the rollout of the new vaccine and training health workers,” he said.

PATH’s Chief of Africa Region, Dr Nanthalile Mugala, was also quoted as saying that meningococcal meningitis had tormented countries across Africa year after year.

“The introduction of MenFive® in Nigeria heralds a transformative era in the fight against meningococcal meningitis in Africa.

“Building on the legacy of previous vaccination efforts, this milestone reflects over a decade of unwavering, innovative partnerships.

“The promise of MenFive® lies not just in its immediate impact but in the countless lives it stands to protect in the years to come, moving us closer to a future free from the threat of this disease,” Mugala said.

According to her, in 2019, WHO and partners launched the global roadmap to defeating meningitis by 2030.

“The roadmap sets a comprehensive vision towards a world free of meningitis and has three goals, including the elimination of bacterial meningitis epidemics.

Another goal is the reduction of cases of vaccine-preventable bacterial meningitis by 50 percent and deaths by 70 percent, as well as the reduction of disability and improvement of quality of life after meningitis, due to any cause.

Chief Programme Officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Ms Aurélia Nguyen, was also quoted as saying that with outbreaks of infectious diseases on the rise worldwide, new innovations such as MenFive® were critical in helping the fight back.

She said that Vaccine Alliance funds the global stockpile as well as vaccine rollout in lower-income countries.

“This first shipment signals the start of Gavi support for a multivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MMCV) programme which, with the required donor funding for our next five years of work, will see pentavalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines rolled out in high-risk countries.

“Thanks to vaccines, we have eliminated large and disruptive outbreaks of meningitis A in Africa, and now we have a tool to respond to other serogroups that still cause large outbreaks, resulting in long-term disability and deaths,” Nguyen said.

According to her, following Nigeria’s meningitis vaccine campaign, a major milestone on the road to defeat meningitis is the international summit on meningitis taking place in Paris in April 2024, where leaders will celebrate progress, identify challenges and assess next steps.

“It is also an opportunity for country leaders and key partners to commit, politically and financially, to accelerate progress towards eliminating meningitis as a public health problem by 2030,” she said.

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Lack of access to menstrual products, facilities is a violation of rights of women — CSOs warn

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By Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi

Coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) has said that period poverty, lack of access to menstrual products and facilities is a violation of the rights of women and adolescents to health, education and dignity.

Speaking during this year’s International Menstrual Hygiene Day, a coalition of the non-profit organisations whose interest cut across women, adolescents, children and health took to the Bauchi State Government to advocate for #UntaxMyPad.

The group which includes Women-for-Women International, Attah Sisters Helping Hand Foundation (ASHHF), Kairos Initiative, Child Is Gold Foundation, Alwadata Lifeline Initiative, CARD Initiative, SWOFON, NIWOREN, WOWICAN, LANGA, AIDCODE, Rotary Club Bauchi Centre among others said menstruation is a natural and essential part of life, yet it remains a topic considered a taboo in many cultures and societies.

“The silence and stigma surrounding menstruation have led to lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene facilities, products, and education affecting women and girls. It’s time to break the silence and advocate for menstrual hygiene and dignity.

“Research findings regarding the State of Menstrual Hygiene indicates that: 500 million women and girls worldwide lack access to menstrual products and facilities. 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school due to lack of menstrual products.

“70 percent of women and girls in India use unhygienic materials during menstruation. Menstrual hygiene-related infections and illnesses are a significant public health concern.”

The group said that the consequences of poor menstrual hygiene include: Health complications, infections, toxic shock syndrome, and reproductive health issues.

They said that social and cultural stigma in menstruation is often seen as shameful or impure perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes. “Human rights violation: Lack of access to menstrual products and facilities is a violation of the rights of women and adolescents to health, education, and dignity.”

While speaking, Commissioner for Women Affairs and Child Development, Hajara Gidado reinstated the ministry’s commitment to the development of Bauchi children. She however pledged to collaborate with the CSOs and CEOs for effective operations.

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23 states receive funding to strengthen medical care services — Pate

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23 states have been identified as beneficiaries of a federal government grant to strengthen medical care services in States.

The Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Muhammad Pate made this known at the sectoral ministerial press briefing to mark the first anniversary of President Bola Tinubu in office in Abuja.

Speaking, Pate revealed that the Federal Government has disbursed the first tranche of N25 billion of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency and the National Health Insurance Authority.

“We put a condition that states that will access those have to comply with the fiduciary guidelines that have been provided, responding to lapses that have been observed over here so that the resources go to Nigerians.

“Twenty-three states have received those funds, and I believe that the rest of the states are just about to complete and receive their financing to channel through the PHCs.”

He also highlighted that at least 1,400 centres can now provide skilled birth attendants.

According to him, more than 2,400 health workers – doctors, nurses, and midwives have been recruited in facilities to provide essential health services to Nigerians in rural areas.

This is as the Minister revealed that the enrolment quota in medical, nursing, and other health professional schools has been increased from 28,000 to 64,000 yearly.

Nigeria had over the years been one of the worst hit countries by brain drain losing over thousands of doctors to migration yearly.

The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors revealed over 900 of its members left for Europe between January and September 2023.

Pate, however, said, “We have doubled the intake, the enrollment, the quotas of medical schools, nursing schools, and other health professionals’ schools from an enrollment target of 28,000 a year to 64,000 now.”

“That is just the first step, the education sector will have to play its role. The states will have to play in to improve the infrastructure, the training, and the tools to produce more healthcare workforce because we need to produce more healthcare workforce given that we’re losing some so that we can serve the population of this country,” He said

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HPV vaccine not meant to reduce African population – Oyo govt.

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The Oyo State Government has declared that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is not an avenue to reduce population of Africa, contrary to insinuations.

Executive Secretary of Oyo State Primary Healthcare Board, Dr
Muideen Olatunji, made this declaration while addressing a press conference on Monday.

Olatunji, while addressing the journalists at the event held in Ibadan, the state capital, said that the state has launched the HPV Vaccine into the Extended Programme on Immunization (EPI) targeting girls between 9-14 years of age in the state.

He described cervical cancer as one of the most common forms of cancer that affects women, stressing that the disease must be tackled head-long.

He said that the vaccine was produced so as to prevent the disease and not to reduce the population.

Olatunji while speaking further, maintained that the government has launched the programme at St. Paul Anglican Primary School, Yanbule, Bashorun and over 300 pupils have been vaccinated.

Olatunji said, “It is pertinent to reiterate that the vaccine is not designed to reduce the population of the state. This is a demonstration of our continued partnership and indeed, collective efforts to protect young girls and citizens of the state against the prevalence of cervical cancer disease.

“Cervical cancer is a serious, and second most fatal cancer that affects women especially females of productive age.

“However, it’s important to note that Cervical cancer is a preventable disease, which can be controlled through routine human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.

“We have trained and retrained those that will administer this vaccine, and there are supervisors who will regularly take measures of safety and there are measures put in place to checkmate the administration of these vaccines. We have a structure in place to reach every part of Oyo State.

“We want to make sure no one is left out in this vaccination, for this reason we must utilize the opportunity as critical stakeholders to significantly reduce the prevalence of this disease to protect the lives of our citizens, particularly young girls between the ages of 9 and 14.

Cervical cancer globally accounts for a huge number of deaths and is the fourth among the cancers that kill women in the world. HPV which causes cervical cancer is preventable, so what we are doing is cost-effective, and safe so that we don’t have to wait for treatment or management when cancer has set it. Prevention is better than treatment and cure.”

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